Wednesday, August 29, 2007

ON ACTING: Re-Visiting "Sub-text"

The term 'sub-text' is one of the most commonly used--and, unfortunately, at least from my perspective, most commonly abused--terms in the acting lexicon. Whenever I hear it, I am always reminded of term "junk-bonds", which referred to a financial instrument whose market chaos caused a great furor in the 1980's when purchasers became aghast when "junk bonds" turned out to be, at best, a problematic investment, and at worst, a fraudulent, criminal undertaking.

I kept thinking at the time: why us everyone so aghast and surprised? Where investors' ears closed when they bought them? Didn't they hear the modifying word 'junk'? What did they think they were buying: gild-edged annuities? If these purchasers had gone to the restaurant and ordered a "garbage burger", would they have expected Fillet Mignon between the roll halves?

Bad actors, when they use the term 'sub-text' all too often act like 'junk-bond' purchasers; they don't hear the term they are becoming involved with. 'Sub-text' is definition 'sub'; it refers to the emotional truth of a performance 'beneath' the text. It is the character's hidden emotional nature: the inner result of a character's genetic inheritance and life experience. It is the emotional 'under-girding' of a spoken word or any other action in the scene.

'Sub-text' is the 'buried mud' of a character's life...and it remains buried, hidden in performance until it (almost invariably, beyond the character's control) receives kinetic activation by the specific events--sensory stimulation--of the scene; at which point the buried 'sub-text' cannot be held in check by the character any longer and it surfaces; and becomes, by reason of it's very surfacing, text.


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